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Flash Review 3, 3-15:
Nothing from Morris Means Something
"World" Powerful, "Saints" Not So Potent
By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2001 Chris Dohse
Gertrude Stein once wrote,
"Generally speaking anybody is more interesting doing nothing than
doing something." She must have been thinking about Mark Morris.
As seen Tuesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, when he
does nothing -- a short work from 1995 called "World Power" -- Morris
is much more interesting than when he does a big something -- the
NYC premiere of his ballet set to the Stein/Virgil Thomson opera
"Four Saints in Three Acts." "Four Saints" gives his dancers lots
of entrances and exits among a scene of celestial harmony full of
scampering pleasantness, pantomime and vaguely folksy dances. But
"World Power" is ultimately more satisfying.
It's hard to write about
Morris, even to see him, through the river of gush that surrounds
his twenty years of work. No other choreographer, except maybe Bill
T. Jones, has caused as much critical commotion during the postmodern
melee. I can't say I've been a big fan. His early works, like "Gloria,"
are stunning. But with 100 dances churned out in two decades, there
are bound to be stinkers. Beware the price of fame.
"World Power" has an
intimate feel. Its structures within structures and layering of
Indonesian forms with vernacular gestures perfectly complement Lou
Harrison's score for gamelan orchestra. The dance works as a pure
visualization of the music, but with a humility that emphasizes
Morris's gratitude to his composer. He dares a simplicity of composition
that a younger choreographer trying to prove himself wouldn't dare,
and allows his patterns and rhythms to reveal themselves in repetitive
intricacy. Once the live chorus begins singing Mark Twain's indictment
of Imperialism, the black-clad dancers become corpses.
"Four Saints" is a touchstone
of the Twentieth Century avant-garde, first performed in an auspicious
all-black staging in 1934. Morris goes for the whimsical for this
production, reinforced by Maira Kalman's bold set of pinks and yellows.
Stein is at her least cantankerous, writing what James Mellow calls
"language in a state of beatitude." Morris's vocabulary relies on
a classical deportment with fuzzy edges. Some essentially calm,
almost hesitant, thrown-away quality that builds a sign language
of recognizable shapes -- "sunshine," "house/building." John Heginbotham,
as Saint Ignatius, and Michelle Yard, as Saint Teresa, are lovely,
especially when they heat up around Act III. The opera is surprisingly
The curtain opens too
much and closes. The girls dance when the girls sing and this is
annoying. The dancers are dressed by Elizabeth Kurtzman in cloying
Americana, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher go to Castile. There is
no irony in paradise.
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